City, building owner fight over code violations
The Williams City Council last Wednesday agreed 4-0 to hire a temporary building inspector to deal with structures that present unusual challenges, such as the historic Odd Fellows hall, located on the corner of Seventh and E streets.
The council agreed to hire Consultant Wyatt Paxton as a temporary employee to serve as building official to assist with inspection of the 141-year-old structure, as the owner attempts to bring the building into compliance with modern building codes.
Although Mayor Chuck Bergson recused himself for conflict of interest at the beginning of the discussion, he commented before leaving the room that the city had options other than hiring Paxton.
Paxton, who has served as building inspector for the City of Colusa, holds multiple certificates as a building inspector and plan examiner, officials said.
City Administrator Frank Kennedy said the city’s building official does not have the experience with unreinforced masonry buildings, and that rehabilitation of such an important landmark as the Odd Fellows building needed to be handled correctly.
“Wyatt Paxton has a wealth of experience and is available,” Kennedy said.
The historic two-story brick building was built in 1877 by three local landowners and housed four businesses- Country Creation, Backyard Pizza, Karen’s Koffee Korner, and Sol Y Lunca Income Tax – when it was condemned in 1999 by the city, which ultimately forced the businesses out.
The building has been empty for nearly 20 years, although the current owner, Raymond Randle, admitted to using the building to operate an unpermitted food pantry, and claims to have made some electrical and plumbing repairs to the first floor.
The problem for the city, however, is that Randall continues to work on the building without building permits, has submitted no plans for the structure, and has no application before the city for a business license, Kennedy said.
But Randle, an African American man, insists the war he has with the City Council stems from racial prejudice and discrimination, and that building officials harass him but not others who either have similar issues with their buildings or have illegal storage containers.
“I came here because I thought this was a progressive community,” Randle told the council at their July 18 meeting. “But that is not the case.”
Randle said he only wants to help people who are struggling to make ends meet, and that the city is making it hard for him by “red-tagging” the building for safety issues.
“I think the building was red-tagged without merit,” Randle told the City Council during public comment at their June 20 meeting. “They are concerned about gas leakage creating a problem. The thing is, there is no gas going to the building.”
Randle claims to also have been cited for an illegal storage container, when other businesses that have containers were not, which he objected to at the City Council meeting in June.
“Roy’s Market has two, Williams Unified has two, Williams Liquor Store has one, Garrison’s has three,” said Randle. “The purpose of having a container on my property is to continue doing what I have been doing for the past 14 months, and that is to provide food every two weeks for individuals who need it. I’ve been doing this. I haven’t got a penny from anyone, anywhere to do this. The only thing that I ask is that I am able to put the container, which I brought in at my cost, and keep the container for the sole purpose of providing food. Over the past 14 months, I served over 5,000 people, and to me that should merit me being able to have the container on my property that doesn’t impose on anyone else.”
Randle, at the July 20 City Council meeting, in addition to accusations of bias, accused the city’s building inspector of being incompetent, and also raised objections to the city hiring Paxton.
City Council members, however, said bias has nothing to do with the fact that the historic Odd Fellows building has major code violations, is unsafe to passersby, has cracks in the structure, that Randle has refused to follow the city’s municipal code, and that he has not submitted a permit application to run any sort of operation out the building, including a non-profit food pantry, which has its own legal issues under Colusa County’s environmental health laws.
“I’m all for the food distribution, but the food is not the problem,” said Councilman John Troughton, Jr., at the July 18 meeting. “It’s the building that is the problem, and the lack of permits and the lack of plans, and the fact that (Randle) wants to blame everyone else or thinks we have a bias. I was all for this man when he walked through the door, but after awhile, I realized pretty quick that he doesn’t like the rules.”
Kennedy said that Randle has been notified of every thing the building needs to be in compliance, including a long list from the fire department, and that Randle does have the right to hire his own building inspector, at his expense, to provide a report to the city.
“We don’t want any bias to come into play,” Kennedy said. “We will be diligent that we will be dealing with the code, and the code itself.”
City officials said the building code is very easy to interpret, and that Randle is aware of what is required to make the historic building safe.
“I’m very strict with safety,” said Councilman Santos Jauregui. “I don’t want to see anybody getting hurt.”
City officials also dismissed Randle’s objections to Paxton.
“Mr. Randle said he doesn’t like Mr. Paxton, but doesn’t give us any reason to go on not to hire him,” Kennedy said. “Secondly, how many other cities do you go to and pick and choose who is going to be your building inspector? The code is the code.”
In addition to inspecting the Odd Fellows building, city officials expect Paxton will be involved in other building projects, including Canna-Hub, a proposed 1.2 million-square-foot cannabis community that could accommodate as many as 100 cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and third-party testing laboratories.
Kennedy said the Williams Building Department is revenue neutral, and the cost to hire Paxton will be recouped from fees collected.